The Systems Approach to Research

By Dhruv Sharma

Biography of Author/Contact Information:

Dhruv Sharma is a Credit Risk Manager and Independent Scholar. Dhruv has a Masters in Systems Engineering from the University of Virginia and Master’s in Organizational Development from Marymount University.   Dhruv also holds a B.S. in Commerce from the prestigious McIntire School. Dhruv is an independent scholar whose interests include mathematics, artificial intelligence, organizational behavior, psychology, film, literature, risk modeling and operations research.




The goals of research and development are to add, subtract, combine and contribute meaningfully to the existing body of scientific knowledge.  The goal is to further science’s ability to help “better” mankind.  This raises many interesting questions, what is “progress”? What does “betterment” of humanity entail? 



Currently the emphasis is not really on the “existing body of scientific knowledge” but rather academia’s existing body of scientific knowledge.  The difference causes over-emphasis on homage to previous work.  That is not to say that it is not important to give credit to people for their work.  Rather, the issue is needlessly adding minimal required number of citations to an article purely for the sake of homage.  The ritual of the traditional research paper with its emphasis on researching and citing potentially ancestral work is a cultural tradition that does not stand up to systems thinking.



Goals of Research & Development


What does it mean to contribute meaningfully to the current body of knowledge?  The goal of research journals should be to find novel ideas and disseminate them so that people can use them to improve existing systems and to solve problems.  In creating an optimal approach or system for research one must understand the goal of research.  By focusing on this goal one can develop an idealized solution to the problem of research as suggested by noted Systems thinkers like Ackoff and Gibson.  In this paper optimal characteristics of research systems will be discussed along with a new approach to optimizing research creation, publication and review.  


Current Approach to Research and its Pitfalls

The current mainstream approach to research ignores the fact that academia is as much a social institution as anything else.  Research and development are not run rationally enough.  Academics have a stake in their own research, and after having spent time, money, and resources to develop positions academics may be consciously and unconsciously opposed to superior more optimal strategies due to such a bias. More specifically, the current process of research and development R & D confuses the process by emphasizing patronage to previous researchers and leaves little room for novel innovation.  If 80% of the time is spent researching poorly written papers on narrow domains this can take valuable time and energy away from innovation. This highlights the other reason why most papers are poor, besides the poor quality of the writing.  The second most pervasive reason for poor quality of research papers is that researchers focus on the process of publishing narrower and narrower topics as these are easier to ‘prove’ or defend. 


Thus the current process is very inefficient in achieving its objectives.  First, someone who seeks to get published must find the appropriate journal, submit, wait for the article to be approved, and then add extraneous citations, to the point that most articles contain mostly homage to previous work and only incrementally novel additions and contributions.  We need to add channels.  This causes a great delay in the spread of new ideas.  The lag time to new ideas is 20-30 years.


Idealized Design of System Approach to Research

In order to speed up idea injection, an important step is to separate the idea generation and the feedback mechanism which evaluates the ideas.  In addition authors need to be able to categorize ideas into multiple categories without getting caught in the trap of making the idea fit a discipline.  By separating the idea generation phase from application, authors can speed up idea dissemination.  Later as the ideas are applied further research can report back on results of the ideas.  Using this process people can discuss the ideas online, without censorship, and build on thought collaboratively in an open manner.  What academics forget is that Ideas are important for scholarly work.  As Mark Stefik, has pointed out in his insightful book entitled Breakthrough, innovation and invention are different skill sets.  The interdisiciplarian online journal adopts this novel approach to research by allowing both ideas and application papers to be published separately thus avoiding the current bottleneck in the academic research publication model.


Successful Measures of Research Models

In thinking about a systems perspective of research it is important to discuss useful indices of performance (Gibson, Scherer). 


Any research publication system should be measured against the following criterion:

  • Ease of Fraud Detection


  • Time between Initial Submission and Publication


  • Collaboration (Disciplinary and Interdisciplinary)


  • Redundancy  (quality and quantity of truly novel research and its potential for impact)


Overview of Approach to Research Innovation

  • Journals the focus purely on ideas and framing of research in new directions and insight
  • Open transparent submissions with minimal gate keeping but with ample rich interfaces to give ranking and feedback (like on
  • Using such an open source approach will allow readers to be the judge of the ideas instead of editors.  If the ideas are good they will be applied resulting in application research papers in the future.
  • If the ideas are poor then they will not be utilized and failure will lead to more knowledge creation.


Using this Normative Model for Research will result in the following benefits :



  • New Ideas are rapidly disseminated, enacted, and evaluated.
  • Ideas are free
  • Problems will be solved more quickly due to greater speed of idea generation, evaluation, and feedback process.
  • In turn science will advance more rapidly.
  • Fraudulent papers can be identified and prevented from being published or
  • if fraudulent papers are published, the mistake will be quickly caught given an avid community of interdisciplinary researchers online.



In analyzing academic research from a Systems perspective allows for the insight that idea generation and idea use and evaluation should be separated.  This approach is what prompted the creation of the Interdisciplinarian online journal. The approach of separating idea generation from application is analogous to Gibson’s steps of Systems Analysis which comprise of goal development, index of performance, generation of solutions, ranking options, choose approach, act, validate and iterate.   The brilliance of Gibson’s approach was to separate idea generation and action phases.  This serves as a useful model on which to base a systems approach to research.  This approach coupled with technology allows for an open source model of research, which has proved to be successful in the technology innovation domain.  Given the strength of internet technology to allow open, transparent, and rich interactive communication the phases of idea generation and application research can be disintermediated and the resulting loosely coupled subsystems will be more efficient in terms of the stated goal of furthering invention and innovation.


Note: Recent research by Saras D. Sarasvathy highlights the critical element of entrepreneurial thinking which she called 'effectual logic' where the entrepreneur takes "a given set of means and allows goals to emerge contingently over time from the varied imagination and diverse aspirations of the founders and the people they interact with" (Sarasvathy , 2001).  Using the means at their disposal, "entrepreneurs begin to imagine and implement possible effects that can be created with them" (2001).  This is a type of mentality which might be of benefit to research community as well.  The interdisciplinarian was launched in a similar manner by looking at the research and expertise the founders had and translating that into an online avenue which would lead to worst case an affordable loss.  The new approach to research implemented in the form of The Interdisciplinarian encourages entrepreneurial research and researchers.  The fact that this approach fits a seemingly unrelated frame of research in an altogether different paradigm and domain highlights the promise and strength of the idea itself and also

Interdisciplinarian research.





Ackoff, R.A. (2006) Idealized Design: How to Dissolve Tomorrow’s Crisis Today. Wharton Publishing.


Gibson, John & William T. Scherer.  How to Do Systems Analysis.  New York:

      John Wiley & Sons, 2007. 


Sarasvathy, S. (2001) “What makes entrepreneurs entrepreneurial?”.  Retrieved from .


Stefik, M., Stefik, B. (2004). Breakthrough. MIT Press.


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